John Locke And John Stuart Mill


John Locke And John Stuart Mill’s Definition Of Freedom Essay, Research Paper

John Locke and John Stuart Mill’s Definition of Freedom

John Locke believes that man ought to have more freedom in political

society than John Stuart Mill does. John Locke’s The Second Treatise of

Government and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty are influential and potent literary

works which while outlining the conceptual framework of each thinkers ideal

state present two divergent visions of the very nature of man and his freedom.

John Locke and John Stuart Mill have different views regarding how much freedom

man ought to have in political society because they have different views

regarding man’s basic potential for inherently good or evil behavior, as well as

the ends or purpose of political societies.

In order to examine how each thinker views man and the freedom he ought

to have in political society it is necessary to define freedom or liberty from

each philosophers perspective.

In The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke states his belief that

all men exist in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose

of their possessions and person as they think fit, within the bounds of the law

of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man. ”

(Locke 4) Locke believes that man exists in a state of nature and thus exists

in a state of uncontrollable liberty which has only the law of nature to

restrict it, which is reason. (Locke 5) However Locke does state that man does

not have the license to destroy himself or any other creature in his possession

unless a legitimate purpose requires it. Locke emphasizes the ability and

opportunity to own and profit from property as being necessary to be free.

In On Liberty John Stuart Mill defines liberty in relation to three

spheres; each successive sphere progressively encompasses and defines more

elements relating to political society. The first sphere consists of the

individuals “inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscious in

the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom

of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific,

moral, or theological.” (Mill 13) The second sphere of Mill’s definition

encompasses the general freedoms which allow an individual to freely peruse a

“…life to suit our own character; of doing as we like…” (Mill 13). Mill

also states that these freedoms must not be interfered with by “fellow creatures,

so long as what we do does not harm them…” (Mill 13), no matter how odd,

offensive and or immoral they may seem to others. The final sphere of Mill’s

definition of liberty is a combination of the first two. He states that “…the

freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons

combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced and or deceived.”

(Mill 14)

Locke and Mill’s definitions of freedom must be qualified. Since the

definitions they present in their respective literature are distinct from one

another, when each philosopher refers to freedom or liberty they are not citing

the same concept. This distinction is necessary when comparing their positions

regarding the amount of freedom man should have in a political society. What one

philosopher considers an overt an perverse abuse of liberty the other may

consider the action completely legitimate and justifiable.

John Locke believes that men should be virtually unrestricted and free

in political society. Locke’s rational for this liberal position lies in the

twin foundation of man’s naturally good inclinations and the specific and

limited ends Locke believes political societies ought to have. According to

Locke the only freedoms men should lose when entering into a political society

are “equality, liberty and executive power they has in the state of nature into

the hands of society.” (Locke 73) In Locke’s ideal society this fails to limit

or remove any freedom from the individual, it only removes the responsibility of

protecting these freedoms from the individual and places it on the state.

John Stuart Mill believes that man’s should be strictly limited in

political society. Mill differs from Locke in the basic principle that

individual who enjoy the benefits of living in political societies owe a return

for the protection society offers. Mill believes for society to function

properly conduct of societies members should “not injuring the interests of one

another; or rather certain interests; which either by express legal provision,

or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered rights” (Mill 70) Mill

furthers this statement by proclaiming that society may go even further. “As

soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicial the interests of

others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the general question whether the

general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering in it, becomes open

to discussion.” (Mill 70) This declaration virtually allows the state the

authority to intervene in every instance of human interaction and have total

power to alter the exchange as it sees fit. If this function of the state is

considered supreme or is allowed jurisdiction over even the first sphere of

freedoms any further discussion of liberty is ineffective and redundant. Mill

clearly seeks to limit the freedom of men and guaranteeing some measure of

residual power to exercised by the state at will.

Having examined the level or amount of freedom Locke and Mill advocate

for man in political society a closer examination of the rational or reasoning

which Locke and Mill used to develop their position will clarify the issue

further. How Locke and Mill viewed man and his natural inclination toward good

or evil was a crucial and fundamental in the formation of their views regarding

political society in general and how much freedom man should have in it. The

importance of this issue lies in the ability of Locke and Mill to legitimize

their conclusion about society based on the necessity of accommodating the

natural inclinations of man. Tyranny can easily be justified under the guise of

protecting the weak from the natural predatory tendencies of stronger men.

John Locke is clear and adamant in his declaration that man is naturally

inclined toward good. Locke belief in the value of man and his ability to act

independently in compliance with natural law contributed more to his views

regarding freedom than did his positions regarding the function of the state.

Several positions which Locke holds to be true regarding man warrant this

conclusion. First is Locke’s definition of the state of nature as “men living

together according to reason, without a common superior on earth with authority

to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.” (Locke 19)

Secondly Locke’s contention that in the state of nature that man has the

right to punish “the crime for restraint and preventing the like offense, which

right of punishing is in everybody; the other of taking reparation, which

belongs only to the injured party…” (Locke 8) Locke does not halt the rights

of men to punish transgressions against them, this right of all men in a state

of nature even if it entails the “power to kill a murderer, both to deter others

from doing he like injury, which no reparation can compensate…” (Locke 8)

However Locke does recognize that the right of punishing of transgressions

against oneself has great potential and temptation for abuse and corruption this

is why Locke contends that “God has certainly appointed government to restrain

the partiality and violence of men.” (Locke 9) Locke’s definite optimism

concerning the nature of man is clearly transferred to his opinion regarding

man’s freedom in political society.

John Stuart Mill does not have the same optimistic view of the nature of

man which Locke holds. However he clearly has more faith in humans than the

portrait Thomas Hobbes presents of man in Leviathan. A case can be made for

Mill’s negative view of humans because of his utilitarian themes throughout On

Liberty which implies that if left to their own devices man will peruse his own

interests even at the costs of his fellow man. Mill does not make a clear

declaration exalting or condemning the nature of man.

However, Mill does make clearly negative statements about the nature of

man. “There has been a time when the element of spontaneity and individuality

was in excess, and the social principle had a hard struggle with it.” (Mill 57)

Mill’s insinuation that the free and unrestricted actions of men can cause

conflict is to be expected nonetheless it disguises Mill’s true position on

man’s nature. It is the subtly inference that the use of spontaneity and

individuality as a method of ordering one’s actions somehow runs contrary to the

social principle, which shows a clear mistrust of man’s unrestricted and

uninhibited side.

Another crucial factor which undoubtedly influenced the amount of

freedom Mill an Locke believed man ought to have in political society was their

view regarding the purpose of the state. Mill and Locke held completely

opposite views regarding who should benefit from the existence of the state the

individual or the community.

According to Locke men are driven to congregate and form societies for

“necessity, connivance and inclination…” (Locke 44) Locke believes that the

purpose or end of the state is provide the necessities and convinces which drove

men to form communities. The state for all intents and purposes is designed to

serve the individual and provide a free and unrestricted environment in which

man who is naturally free may prosper and own property.

The constant threat of interference by other men in a man’s freedom and

enjoyment of his property has driven men to seek the safety of a community which

exists “for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates which

I call by the general name “property”.” (Locke 71) Locke cites three specific

reasons for the formation of political society. “First, there wants an

established, settled, known law, received and allowed by common consent to be

standard….Secondly, in the state nature there wants a known and indifferent

judge with authority to determine all differences according to the established

law…Thirdly, in the state of nature there often wants power to back and

support the sentence when right, and to give it due execution.” (Locke 71)

Other necessities and conveniences which Locke refers to are specifically and

clearly defined to prevent any interpretation and or expansion of the power of

the state.

According to Mill the purpose of the state is to facilitate a beneficial

two way relationship between individual and the community. The ends of the

state are definitely not devoted to the promotion of the individuals freedom as

they are in Locke’s writings. Mill contends the collective interests of the

community render greater reward than the promotion of individual interests.

John Locke and John Stuart Mill are two philosophers who have left an

indelible mark on the concept of freedom in political societies. John Locke

favours greater freedom for man in political society than does John Stuart Mill

does. Their beliefs regarding the nature of man and the purpose of the state

are bound to their respective views regarding freedom because one position

perpetuates and demands a conclusion regarding another.

Locke system for dealing with man freedom and all other related matters

severely limits the role of state to strictly guaranteeing individual freedom.

This is the best method of preventing the perversion and abuse of the role and

power of the state. Locke views simply stem from his faith in man and his

potential to succeed independently, which collectively promotes the prosperity

of the state.

Mill does not implicitly trust or distrust man and therefore does not

explicitly limit freedom, in fact he does define freedom in very liberal terms,

however he does leave the potential for unlimited intervention into the personal

freedoms of the individual by the state. This nullifies any freedoms or rights

individuals are said to have because they subject to the whims and fancy of the


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